Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Literally Murder by Ali Brandon: Guest Author, Review & Giveaway

Literally Murder

Another Cat on the Cover

By Ali Brandon

Since I first began writing cozy mysteries a few years back, I’ve been closely listening to readers of that genre as they discuss their likes…and, occasionally, their dislikes. But get even more specific and start talking about animal mysteries, and you’ve got a whole new set of “pet” peeves to air. And the loudest complaint has to do with cats on book covers.

Confused? Let me explain.

Readers are well aware of the visual shorthand employed by book cover artists as far as genre fiction. The cover has a bare-chested hunk on it, and chances are it’s a romance. Lots of black, maybe a splash of blood or a weapon, and you’ve got a thriller. And when it comes to cozy mysteries, the universal symbol—even more identifiable than the silhouetted female on the ladies room door—seems to be a cat.

Most readers logically assume that a feline on the cover means a cat between the covers, too. Unfortunately, such isn’t always the case…and that misunderstanding can lead to lots of hissing and spitting on the part of cat mystery fans!

For, unless you’ve been hanging out in the Self-Help aisle at your bookstore all these years, you know that cat mystery series abound. They pretty well commenced decades ago with the “Cat Who…” books, and they continue to this day with no sign of abating. Cat mystery readers are never happier than when they’ve stumbled across a brand new series featuring yet another fuzzy, purring protagonist.

But let them buy a book with a cat on the cover, only to discover the storyline is feline-free, and the claws come out! They feel cheated, sold a bill of goods! And, sadly, the hapless author (who likely had little influence on the cover) will ever after suffer the brunt of the cat readers’ wrath, no matter that he/she wasn’t responsible for this kitty bait-and-switch.

Almost as egregious is when the cute tabby on the cover does shows up in the story, but only in a couple of scenes. Your cat mystery readers will tell you that it’s obvious the cat was basically shoehorned into the book just to help sell a few more copies. Woe unto the author who made that token cat mistake. He or she will be talked about in unpleasant terms on every cat lovers discussion sites for years to come.

Yes, cat readers take their feline literature seriously. So what, then, transforms a cozy mystery into an actual cat mystery? Very simply, it requires that a feline take an active role in solving the various crimes that are happening in that book.

These cat sleuths, in turn, fall into one of two different categories: a) Talking Critter or b) Realistic Animal. (The designation is mine…ask your local bookseller where to find the Talking Critter section, and she’ll point you right back to “Self-Help”.) Talking Critter books are lots of fun, but I chose to go the alternate path when I created Hamlet, the titular mascot in my Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series. So let’s talk a moment about Category B – Realistic Animal.

Hamlet has a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and witnessing murder. Unfortunately for Brooklyn bookstore owner and official feline caretaker Darla Pettistone, Hamlet—“Category B-er” that he is—can’t tell the authorities what he knows about the killing. But the wily feline has a workaround.

Hamlet has become the king of book-snagging, a little trick that entails periodically pulling appropriately-titled books off the bookstore’s shelves to serve as clues for Darla. Then, it’s up to her to interpret those cryptic words into something that makes sense as far as solving the crime.

But “realistic” also means keeping it real. It occurred to me early on in my series that you can only have so much murder and mayhem taking place in one bookstore. So I established Hamlet as an escape artist. This allowed me to have Hamlet find a dead body somewhere else besides on Darla’s doorstep, which was the case in the first Hamlet book.

By the third outing, Darla had trained Hamlet to walk with a harness and leash. That way, in book four, LITERALLY MURDER, Hamlet is able to go on vacation with Darla. Of course, he pads his way over yet another pesky dead body…but at least said corpse is found outside the Brooklyn zip code, for a change.

I’m currently hard at work on book five in the series, which takes place back at the bookstore. And, once more, Darla and the police are going to need every bit of help they can get in solving this next murder. But, don’t worry, Hamlet will save the day yet again. After all, it’s his furry picture on the book cover.

Ali Brandon is the New York Times bestselling author of the Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime. Writing under her real name, Diane A.S. Stuckart, she penned the popular Leonardo da Vinci historical mystery series, which has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, as well as a Florida Book Award. Additionally, she is the author of five critically-reviewed historical romances which will soon be re-released as ebooks. A native Texan with a degree in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma, Diane a/k/a Ali now lives in South Florida. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America and the Cat Writers Association. Visit her at, and be sure to “like” Hamlet on Facebook: .


Giveaway: Leave a comment by noon eastern on Monday, October 13th for your chance to win a copy of Literally Murder. (US entries only, please.)

About the Book: From her Brooklyn bookstore, Darla Pettistone not only sells mysteries, but solves them, aided by her big-boned black cat, Hamlet—who has suddenly pounced into the spotlight after unleashing his fists of furry…

After a video of Darla and Hamlet performing at a martial arts tournament goes viral, the Florida chapter of the Feline Society of America invites the “Karate Kitty” to be the guest of honor at their championship cat show in Fort Lauderdale.

Upon arrival, Darla discovers that not everyone in the Sunshine State has a sunny disposition. Animal rights activists are on the march, and a cat show contestant stages his own angry protest when his special breed Minx—half Sphynx, half Manx—doesn’t win. Then Hamlet disappears—only to be found next a dead man's body. Now it’s up to Darla and Hamlet to take best in show and collar the killer…

Tortie Shorties
Book reviews that are short and sweet...just like Truffles!

I'm generally a little leery whenever a favorite cozy series goes "on the road" to a different location. After all, the towns in cozy mysteries are as important a character as the 2-legged and 4-legged variety in many cases. My worry was completely unwarranted as this is another wonderful installment in the Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series.

In this 4th book in the series Darla and Hamlet leave Brooklyn for Fort Lauderdals to attend the Feline Society of America National Championship show. Hamlet is the guest of honor thanks to his "Karate Kitty" video going viral on the Internet. What should be a fun getaway goes terribly wrong when odd things begin to happen at the show, and then Hamlet is catnapped and reappears by the dead body of a breeder of rare cats.

Darla's BFF Jake tags along on the trip, and her mother Nattie is the star of the show from the minute she drives up in her Mini Cooper to pick the ladies up at the airport. She has a mystery of her own to solve - money has gone missing from her condo association, and her friend Billy, the head judge of the cat show, is being accused. Nattie is an absolute hoot who had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion!

Jake is forced to make a heartwrenching decision at the end of the book (that I never would have been able to make) about something she had her heart set on, and back in Brooklyn Pettistone's Fine Books is being outfitted with a coffee bar so that will be an interesting addition to the series.

If you're anything like me and your life revolves around cats and books, you will never go wrong in picking up a Black Cat Bookshop Mystery!


Michstjame said...

I'm thrilled to hear this wonderful series' spirit stays intact on the road, since I worry about that, too, and I'm intrigued by Jake's decision. Sounds like another great installment.

Terrific post by Ms. Brandon, too. The claws do come out if the furry friend (I know she was specific to cats, but it is true of dog cozy readers, too) on the cover is either missing or scarce in the book. They matter.

Unknown said...

Love the bookshop theme; thank you for the chance to win it :)

Athena Cat Goddess Wise Kitty said...

We agree. Cat on covers should be a big part of the book too :)

Purrs xx
Athena and Marie

Unknown said...

This is a new to need series , but I always love a cozy series with a cat ! This is going on my wish list :)

Life with Dogs and Cats said...

Of course, I agree. If there's a cat on the cover, a cat should be covered in a book. Am looking forward to reading your latest.

Purrs (and wags) from Life with Dogs and Cats.

Alicia said...

I've enjoyed this series and would love to win this one! Hamlet is the best!

Anonymous said...

Great post! I admit to seeking out books with cats. You get it with the Black Cat Bookshop Mysteries. Thanks!

I already have a copy of Literally Murder on the way...just wanted to say...great post and congrats!

patucker54 at aol dot com

NoraA said...

Hi Ali, I'm a huge fan of the series and own all the books. I've also just had an interesting idea. We have a Brooklyn Book Fair every year which takes place on the grounds of Brooklyn Boro Hall. I think it would be amazing if you were in attendance next year (Berkeley has a presence there usually) to meet and greet your fans in Brooklyn.

I hope I'm the lucky winner of this book.


Anna Gerard/Diane A.S. Stuckart said...

Thanks to Melissa and Truffles for an awesome review! I'm glad you liked the road trip. Who knows, maybe Nattie will head to Brooklyn in a future book for an encore appearance. :)

Anna Gerard/Diane A.S. Stuckart said...

@NoraAdrienne I need to find out more about the Brooklyn Book Fair. You're right, it does sound like fun. :) Thanks to everyone for your kind comments.

traveler said...

A cozy with a cat is great and always a winner for me. thanks. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

petite said...

A most enjoyable post and giveaway. This series is delightful. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

Debbie S said...

I admit that I had not heard of this series and was surprised when I saw how many I missed, I definitely have to get started on this series, books and a cat, what could be better? Thanks for the chance to win.
momzillasteel at gmail dot com

Random Felines said...

YAY!! Another author for mom to add to her list :)

Unknown said...

The series sounds great.
I really appreciate what she has said about cat on covers. I read about an author who had to write a cat into the story because the cover artist insisted on a cat being displayed.
libbydodd at comcast dot net

Acemommy said...

I'd love this one!

Becky Prazak said...

Love this series and can't wait to read this one.

Unknown said...

Hi Truffles thanks for visiting my blog and meeting my brofur! Love Dolly

Anonymous said...

Gweat posty.

Luv ya'

Dezi and Lexi

Seville at Nerissa's Life said...

As I, Nerissa the Cat, have yet to be invited to our local bookstore, I had to check with the peep on this one.

Yup, she gravitates towards the books with cats on covers and yes, she does expect a kitty to be in the book, too. Featured is best but I think she's desperate enough to take whatever kitty scenes the book provides and be grateful for it.


PS. Ummm... Please don't enter me in the contest. Book looks WONDERFUL but I'm a Canadian kitty and don't live in the US. purrs

Karen B said...

Hamlet - as Karate Kitty - I'm laughing already! Looking forward to another great read.

Sue said...

I totally agree that I would hiss, too, if there was a cat on the cover and no cat in the book.

cyn209 said...

so excited to read this book!!!
thank you for the giveaway!!

cyn209 at juno dot com

abookaddict said...

Would love the chance to discover a new author who indeed writes about a cat (or two!).

Barbara T. said...

Cars rule, dogs drool.


Absolutely one of our VERY favorite cat mystery series - second only to Midnight Louie! are we partial to black cats....ummmm YEAH!

Unknown said...

Love this series. Looking forward to reading this one.

Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard said...

Agreed - if there's a cat on the cover, it should feature in the story. I like both the realistic kind and the talking cats, as long as I know what I'm getting fairly early in the book. :-) This sounds like a fun series (cat and bookstore?!), so I'll have to check it out. jkpekar [AT] crosslink DOT net

Marty the Manx said...

I would definitely like to be entered in the drawing please :) It is true cats have been used to dupe us readers into buying books. Thank goodness for good writers!

Kaye Killgore said...

I love this series, and Hamlet.

Anita Yancey said...

I haven't heard of this author before, but the book sounds wonderful and I'd love to read it. Thanks for having the giveaway.